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Russia's foreign minister said the international community must help the Palestinian
Russia's foreign minister said the international community must help the Palestinian territories restore unity as a vital step toward Palestinian statehood.

The Middle East Quartet of negotiators met Monday in Washington and expressed support for the U.S.-sponsored Middle East peace conference that will gather delegates from about 50 countries in Annapolis (Maryland) Tuesday.

"We drew up further ways toward a resolution, and emphasized the crucial need for restoring Palestinian unity," Sergei Lavrov told a briefing after the meeting of the Quartet, which includes the European Union, Russia, the UN, and the United States.

Peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians were disrupted by a series of events both in Israel and the Palestinian territories. A political crisis on the Palestinian territories in June ended with the radical Hamas movement seizing control over Gaza after fierce armed clashes with pro-presidential Fatah groups.

Lavrov also said the Middle East negotiators were optimistic about prospects for restarting the peace talks at the conference in Annapolis. "There is still a chance that such an agreement will be announced tomorrow at the Annapolis conference," Lavrov, who is Russia's chief delegate at the conference, said Monday.

He said the situation must be returned to a point when Hamas and Fatah agreed to form a national unity government at a meeting in Mecca in the spring, and added that Moscow was ready to host further Middle East peace talks.

Lavrov confirmed that a donor conference in support of Palestinian territories would be held in Paris in December.

U.S. President George W. Bush, in turn, said the meeting in Annapolis brought together all these delegations to secure peaceful coexistence between the Israelis and Palestinians.

"We've come together this week because we share a common goal: two democratic states, Israel and Palestine, living side-by-side in peace and security. Achieving this goal requires difficult compromises, and the Israelis and Palestinians have elected leaders committed to making them," Bush said at a dinner thrown at the State Department for delegation members by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Bush met with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas for separate negotiations Monday. All sides expressed optimism about the prospect for a peace resolution. Abbas called for talks on the delicate issue of Palestinian statehood.

Meanwhile, Hamas leaders have said they would not recognize the results of the conference in Annapolis and described Abbas's consent to attend the event as treason.


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